Board Schools


For most people boarding schools conjure up thoughts of young men in navy
blue blazers with white shirts and a tie going to a beautiful school with ivy
covered walls and the game of polo being played in the distance. Oh, and don\'t
forget thoughts of parents with fat wallets and a family trust fund. This is
what Gordon Vink, the director of admissions at Mercersburg Academy in
Pennsylvania, calls the “Holden Caufield-Catcher in the Rye syndrome”(Parker
111), a book about the troubles a boy faces at his prep boarding school.
To an extent the image holds true. Prep schools offer collegiate type
atmospheres, have strict rules, and often teach generations of students from the
same families. The simplest definition of a boarding school is a place that
parents pay for a stodent to live and go to school. The school\'s teachers,
coaches, and administrators live in dormitories with boarders and act as their
family enforcing the strict rules, making disciplinary decisions, and overseeing
behavior and academic performance.
Boarding schools can be one or all of the following: academic boot camp,
a place for parents to put kids they don\'t want around or don\'t have the time
for, a haven from deteriorating public schools, a necessary credential for
children of the rich and famous, or a training ground for tomorrow\'s leaders.
These schools range from small unknown institutions which will accept anyone, to
the elite schools, which are very selective and are a pipeline to Ivy-league
schools and success.
Boarding schools are superior to public day schools. Proponents of
boarding prep schools claim the schools offer unparalled discipline, a stronger
curriculum, exellent facilities, a way to get in to better colleges, a superior
learning environment, staggering extra-curricular options, and allow students to
attain a higher level of performance. Opponents argue that the astronomical
cost, anywhere from $8000 to $25,000 per year for the most elite, is too
expensive. They also claim the rules are too extreme and suffocating, and that
students experience an abundance of stress.
The biggest argument against boarding schools is cost. With an average
cost of $8000 to $25,000 (Topolnicki 100), many parents ask: Are private
boarding schools worth the expense? The extra attention and frills don\'t come
cheap. “It\'s like buying stock or a new house,” says private school consultant
Georgia Irvin. “It\'s a major investment.” (Parker 111) But many boarding
schools have been working hard to increase their financial aid and to structure
new methods of payment. Pricey prep schools are more likely to give
scholarships. Sixteen percent of students who attend get financial aid, which
averages $5,400 a year. ( Topolnicki 101) Boarders also must consider what they
are getting - tuition and all living expenses. “Just think about how much food
a typical teenager eats,” Susan Laittus says. She pays $21,000 a year for her
child to go to boarding school. She feels no price is too high when thinking of
her children\'s future. That $21,000 also gives her child access to a private
beach, surfing classes, and a recreation room with an ocean view. One
alternative to get a similar education is to move to an advantaged public school
system, but then there are high property taxes to pay and the average home
costs between $125,000 to $500,000 in such affluent neighborhoods. (Topplnicki
100) If the costs can be overcome, then a private boarding school is worth
every penny.
Another problem is the system of rules the schools use. Boarding
schools generally plan every hour in the student\'s day. From wake up to lights
out, every hour in the student\'s life is set. At Exeter Boarding School in New
Hampshire, classes start before 8:00 AM and often don\'t wind up until 6:00 PM.
(Morgan 103) Jenny Cantrell\'s first discovery at Mercersburg Academy in
Pennsylvania was the school rule book. Jenny had to be at dinner from 6:20 PM
until 6:50 PM, then have study time from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM. After 10:45 PM
she was expected to be in her room. On weekends she has to sign in at her dorm
between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM to report where she would be until her 11:00 PM
curfew. You can\'t just leave to see a movie if you are tired of doing
schoolwork. This loss of personal freedom often leads to severe stress.
(Cookson 33) In his study of American private schools, Peter W. Cookson reports
that teachers talk of “corks popping” and “freak outs”. Leonard Baird found
that “Nearly half of the students were bothered very much by pressures of their
highly regulated environment.” He could not state the exact